Archives for posts with tag: Jesus

risen

It never occurred to me to consider the Easter story from the perspective of the soldiers who were commanded to find Jesus’ body and kill the notion that “the Nazarene” was resurrected. I never considered that God could use the commands of a Roman governor to change the heart of a Roman soldier. While it is a new perspective for me, it is so like God to allow those who seek the truth to find it in His story.

 I wonder how many stories we don’t know. I wonder what post resurrection appearances or miracles are unknown to us because God chose to make those personal, rather than eternal. I wonder what would happen today if we pursued the truth, rather than trying to prove ourselves right. I wonder what the Church would look like if we were as interested in being in God’s presence as we are in achieving our self-prescribed goals.

 Perhaps my favorite scene in the movie is when the soldier goes to sit on a rock with Jesus at dawn. The soldier says, “I was there when you died.” It’s not profound or deeply philosophical. It’s not a great statement of faith. It has far more to do with his doubt than his belief. But his honesty led him to God. May it be so for us.

 Go see the movie. Allow yourself to celebrate the miracle of Easter and the privilege of knowing God.

 

lgbt-rainbow-confederate-flag

I’m pretty flexible on most things, but there are certain topics…not so much. I’m passionate about learning what God went to so much trouble to reveal about himself in the Bible and his history with those who choose to love him back. I’m passionate about sharing what God has taught me. I’m passionate about those that God has given me to love, both family and close friends. I expect the best from them and for them. I’m passionate about life and hope, and I vehemently oppose those who restrict either. I’m passionate about music and travel and education.

But deeply held passions typically lead to pet peeves. My passion for God’s Word can make me disdainful of those who use God as a tool for their personal agenda. My passion for language makes me utterly irritated with professional speakers or journalists who appear unaware of some basic grammar rules. My passion for those I love often makes me intolerant of their choices that cause them regret. I usually am incapable of maintaining a cheerful disposition with those who zoom past a line of traffic and then insist that those who have waited and merged safely let them cut in line, or those who expect kindness and generosity, but show none. Dishonesty, discourtesy, incompetence, and selfishness are far more likely to cause me anger than move me to mercy.

In recent days I’ve watched as too many in this country have used their passion as an excuse for prejudice, rejection, rioting and hatred. Indulging our pet peeves leads us to arrogance and intolerance. Both passions and peeves handled selfishly can engender increased problems, rather than progress. Both sides live in such a way as to prove their enemies right.

Human nature hasn’t changed much. Jesus had to battle the passions and peeves of his generation. The Pharisees were passionate about defending the rules they had created to enforce God’s law. Any who didn’t honor their authority and obey them were punished. The Pharisees focused on their rules for the Sabbath and ensuring that God stay in the box they created for him, insisting that all around them agree with them. Jesus tried to teach them a better understanding of Sabbath and to see God as he really was. Rather than testing what Jesus said for truth, they tried several times to stone him, and eventually orchestrated his crucifixion.They came face to face with God incarnate and missed him because he didn’t support their passionate perspective.

I fear that our generation has gotten so arrogant in our passions and peeves that we too will miss God. We believe only the facts that prove us right and arrogantly dismiss all who disagree with us. Whether it is a Confederate flag or gay marriage or our chosen political party, those who disagree with us become our pet peeves. God’s call on each of us is individual….we don’t get to impose what we like on people who disagree with us. We do have to consistently seek God’s will and guidance for ourselves. Sometimes that may look like mercy; sometimes it may look like justice. But either way our response must be obedience to God, not self-centered arrogance. Those who disagree with you may be wrong….your response to them may be wrong as well and you may miss the opportunity to help them see your point of view. Those who disagree with you may be right….your response may prevent you from ever understanding that. I encourage you to sacrifice your passions and peeves and let God show you what your response should look like. Live in such a way as to prove your enemies wrong about you.

king

Protection from enemies. Healthcare. Free stuff. Some things never change. Listening to those who are seeking the party nominations reminds me of a Bible story.

In John 6 Jesus miraculously fed 5000 with a boy’s lunch. He healed them and taught them, and they liked it. Jesus gave them what they wanted, so they wanted to make him king. Knowing that their desires were selfish, not godly, Jesus evaded them and went off to be alone with his Father.

We want to give authority to those who agree with us, and we want those we disagree with to be destroyed…or at least go away. I fear that far too many Americans vote strictly along party lines. Too many voters make minimal effort to be educated on the problems our country is facing, and pin their confidence on factless sound bites that support what they want to believe. When a candidate tells us what we want to hear, we want to give him (or her!) power. The problem is, we don’t measure what we want to hear against sound principle or the facts. We are not inclined to let our opinions be clouded by facts that don’t support us.

Since the invention of the TV, our elections have been more about image than content. Elections have been lost because a candidate stumbled on an answer, because he lost patience with a persistent heckler, or because they lacked the good looks and charisma captured by the TV camera. Candidates now hire people to make sure their image is impressive. The problem is, America doesn’t need a poster boy; we need a statesman. We don’t need a slick politician who seeks to further his own career; we need someone who is committed to what is right for the people of America. We need a leader with integrity and sound understanding of our domestic and international relationships and problems. Entire campaigns are built around sound bites and photo ops – neither one of which will address or assuage the crises in our nation.

The people of Greece are facing utter financial collapse. Their government has been insolvent for some time, but they elected a man who told them that they could continue doing what they’d been doing in the past and things would get better. They defeated the man who told them that saving their country would require higher taxes and fewer government sponsored perks. Now they are adamant that the European Union continue to provide them what they refuse to provide for themselves. Europe is not inclined to sacrifice so that the Greeks won’t have to. They face a referendum this weekend, and they will have to choose between what they want to hear and the facts about their future.

We still want a king. We will give him power if he will give us what we want. We want slick promises that things will get better and that it won’t cost us anything. Anytime we give power to those who tell us what we want to hear, we leave God out of the process. In the Old Testament the people demanded that Samuel appoint a king over them. God reminded Samuel that the people weren’t rejecting Samuel’s authority; they were rejecting God’s authority. I believe the people of America have far more in common with the people of Samuel’s day and the nation of Greece than we want to admit.

I dread the endless campaign commercials connected with a presidential campaign, but I intend to use each one as a reminder to immediately go to God in prayer, that he would help us elect the leader we need, not the leader we deserve. What would happen if the people of this nation repented of our arrogance and sought God’s will in handling the fear and hatred and selfishness and immorality of our nation?

II Chron 7:14 if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

glory 4

It came down from heaven, and the people watched as it filled the Tabernacle and the Temple. David wrote that heavens declare it in every language. It reflected from Moses’ face. The angels proclaimed it on in their greeting to the shepherds, and it transfigured Jesus’ appearance. Gospel songs remind us that we’re going there. In Jesus’ last prayer before he was arrested, he asked God to reveal his glory to his disciples and to let his glory be manifested in those who believe in him.

We use it to describe some things that are too big or too deep for words. It is a mystical blend of magnificent and holy and precious and important. But seeing the glory of God comes at a cost. The Hebrews had to consecrate themselves and their camp before God’s glory would dwell among them. Moses had to hide in the cleft of the rock as God’s glory passed by. Isaiah’s view of God’s glory cost him an honest assessment of his sin.

The mundane comes cheaply and easily, and too often we learn the hard way that “You get what you pay for”. When we take the easy way out, we miss the glory of great achievement. When we refuse risk doing something new or different, we will achieve nothing new. Seeing God’ glory right here on earth will cost us the control we pretend to have, and will require our obedience. And it will give an unquenchable thirst for more of his presence. God’s glory is free to all, but it is not cheap.

My pastor reminded us a few weeks ago that we are going to “spend our lives”. What we choose to “spend” our lives on determines what they are worth. Jesus willingly “spent” his life for you. On that last night of his life, Jesus could have gone somewhere Judas couldn’t find him. He could have left Gethsemane as he saw the Romans and Jews coming down the hill from the city to get him. He could have skipped Passover in Jerusalem that year. He could have called down angels from heaven to destroy those who wanted to execute him. But he chose to pay the price….because you are worth that to him. He spent his life earning your spot in glory – now and in heaven.

How you spend your life can bring Him glory. Choosing to reflect His glory into your world will bring you magnificence, holiness, and precious purpose. Don’t settle for cheap and easy. Those things seldom matter, will not last, and almost always end in disappointment. Aim for His glory. It absolutely matters and will last an eternity.

outrage2

I was in a meeting with some people I very much respect when they began to criticize the police and the justice system because of the deaths of Michael Brown and Freddie Gray. I was shocked at their complete condemnation of the police and the courts and even the American people in general. They ignored eye witness testimony and the facts. They were disdainful of any opinion or media outlet that did not support what they wanted to believe. They believed that racism controlled the police reaction and in no way held the men who died accountable for their behavior.

Where was their outrage at the mobs who looted and burned stores and businesses? Why didn’t their compassion extend to the business owners who lost everything they had? Where was their outrage at the injuries and deaths of the police who were just doing their job? How does rioting advance their cause? How can it possibly change the minds of those who oppose or respect them? When is it ever justified to pick and choose a social cause here or a political agenda there and exclusively pursue it at the cost of the rights and freedoms of those who disagree with you?

The deaths of those young, black men are tragic. I stand with those who believe that black lives matter. So do the lives of Asians and Latinos and Caucasians. I’m impressed by those who go into the streets of Baltimore or Ferguson or New York and clean up the mess left behind by those who use unrest as an excuse to steal and destroy or increase their power base. I’m inspired by those who seek justice, even when their personal agenda is threatened. When we pick and choose which lives matter more, we are racists, no matter the color of the skin of those we support. I might be more inclined to respect the opinion of those who fight for equal rights for all if they actually meant it; they seem to only mean equal rights for their chosen group.

Arguing with people seldom changes their mind. But if we choose to live in a way that proves to them they are wrong about us, there is hope. How many understand the danger the police see every day and treat them respectfully? How many police have suffered from the abuse of those they deal with, and choose to treat them fairly anyway? If we believe that life matters, they we need to protect all those who are threatened in every way we can. If we believe that people should be held accountable for their behavior, then we need to enforce our laws to protect the innocent and punish the guilty, irrespective of race or class or gender.

Selective outrage has nothing to do with moral superiority; it isn’t about our deep belief in what we believe is right. I wish the civil rights leaders were as troubled about the murder rate among young black men in the black community as they are in villainizing the police. Where is their outrage over the gang murders in Chicago? Where is their outrage over the drug abuse that robs so many of potential and freedom?

Too many of us are defined by what we oppose, rather than what we believe in. Choosing one portion of the big picture and pretending that it is the only part that matters is only about proving ourselves right and destroying those who disagree with us…that is hypocrisy. Jesus said Christians should be defined by their love…even for people we disagree with.

long road

I like long vacations, long walks on the beach, long views from a mountaintop, and long dinners that are lively with conversation. I do not like long arguments, long lines, unpleasant tasks that seem unending, or extended periods of time when I’m frustrated or unsure.

I like obedience when others obey me, and I like having someone I trust to obey when I’m lost or threatened. I don’t like obedience when I am asked to do hard things or things I don’t like. I don’t like obeying someone that I don’t respect, and I don’t like obeying silly rules.

In a recent video I heard Beth Moore describe the Christian life as “a long obedience in the same direction”. Tomorrow I turn 56. In some ways it seems like a long, long time; in other ways some of those distant memories seem like just yesterday. God has been so incredibly patient with me as I stumbled through inconsistent obedience and chose detours that made my obedience harder and longer than it could have been. Those times taught me that obeying him is ALWAYS the best choice. There have been some times when I wasn’t sure what God wanted from me, and I just kept aiming forward until I understood the new thing he wanted from me and for me. Those times taught me that his timing is ALWAYS perfect. There have been other times when I was so distracted by my plans or preferences that I wandered away from him. The “sparkly” and “shiny” things of this life can draw me away from God just as surely as they capture the attention of a baby…and I have to eventually find my way back to the direction I know God is leading me.

Eastern shepherds lead their sheep; they don’t drive the sheep ahead of them. Jesus described himself as the “Good Shepherd”. If I can obey the one who has proven over and over that I can trust him, if I can follow him even when I don’t understand what I’m facing, I will eventually be able to see how all the “paths” of my past lead to where I am and to where he is leading me.

I have learned that my “short cuts” aren’t, and that racing ahead of God when I don’t know where I’m going is never a good idea. God has consistently proved that when I honestly ask his guidance, he gives it. I want my life to be increasingly characterized by a “long obedience in the same direction”. I want that direction to be the pleasure of my God, even (and especially) when that shifts to a slightly new direction.

easter monday

The grief and horror of Good Friday are almost unimaginable. The silence and sadness and emptiness of that Saturday are literally unspeakable. And then the thrill, the awe, the utter joy of Easter Sunday morning. Jesus appears to them and the hopelessness of the heartbreaking weekend …is no more.

But what about Monday? They know Jesus isn’t dead….but he’s not really “with” them either. They decided to follow Jesus and stay near him, and then he left them alone. They used to just wait for Jesus’ instructions for the day and obey him. But on Monday that is no longer true.

What do you do when the rules change? What happens when you don’t see the plan or have any clue what the next step looks like? The disciples will have fifty days to wait before they begin to see the plan. What did they do with those fifty days until Pentecost? The Crucifixion and Resurrection were events that were out of their control; they could only emotionally respond. The fifty days of Pentecost test their faith when they don’t understand what God is doing.

What do you do with the “in between” times of your life? You want to do the right thing, and you have no idea what that is. You want to be obedient, but your connection to God, your ability to hear from him, is occasional and inconsistent. What do you do when you don’t know what to do?

As I study their response during this time, I see two important lessons we need to remember when we are in an “in between” time. One is that they stayed together. Jesus had organized them into a group and they found strength in fellowship with each other. We know that a week after Easter, they were all still together in Jerusalem. We know that seven of them went up to Galilee for a fishing trip. And we know that they were all together at Pentecost as they were filled with the Holy Spirit that enabled them to understand what God wanted from each of them in the immediate future and empowered them to do mighty miracles in God’s name.

They also remained obedient to what they did know. Just because they didn’t see the big picture or have clear understanding of the next step, didn’t mean that all Jesus had said wasn’t true. They didn’t immediately run to pagan altars because that “Jesus” thing didn’t work out like they thought. They didn’t return home and put that “Jesus” phase of their lives behind them. They obeyed what they knew to be true until they received new instruction.

And so must we. Unlike the disciples, we have the Holy Spirit to guide us. But like the disciples we sometimes find ourselves at moments when we don’t know what to do next, when we want to be obedient, but have no idea what that looks like. Seek the fellowship of godly people and obey what you do know until God reveals your next step. Joyfully anticipate that the one who promised to never leave you is about to do something new through you.

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We can embellish it, spin it, or stretch it. We may run from it or hide from it, but our response to the truth doesn’t change the truth. Courts ask us to “Swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth” because too often we try to make the truth into something it is not.

 Most of us have a problem with the truth. We want to embrace the “truth” that supports what we want to think and dismiss any evidence that might prove us wrong. We disdain those who disagree with our version of the truth, and have turned every issue into an “us” and “them” predicament. We are far less interested in actually knowing the whole truth than we are in proving our enemies wrong. When we sublimate the truth to winning the argument, we become the ones who embellish it, spin it and stretch it. Ignorance is no excuse; neither is arrogance.

Never has our nation been so sharply divided as now. In politics, race relations, morality, and religion, there is an increasing polarization of opinions. We argue about everything from financial strategies to educational reform to foreign policy. Both sides of every issue assume that they have the truth, and those who disagree with them are uninformed or malicious. Both sides of every issue seem far more likely to attack each other than to seek the whole truth and work for common good.

When did different ideas become mutually exclusive? Where is the line between what is non-negotiable and a different perspective? Can Democrats be just a right about helping the poor as Republicans are about enabling people to rise out of poverty? Is there a need to protect the right to free speech of all people, including the ones who disagree with what is politically correct? Can we recognize the flaws of institutions and people we like? Can we honor the goals of those who don’t share our priorities?

Jesus said “You will know the truth and the truth will make you free.” (John 8:32) What do we have to learn before we will actually “know the truth”? What will knowing the truth set us free from? What does it look like to fight for the truth?

I suspect the whole truth is far more about understanding ALL the facts than it is about destroying those with whom we disagree. The truth just is. We can’t change it. But if we truly want to find it, I suspect we will find ourselves in the company of people we respect, even when we don’t agree.

gift

Gift wrap matters to me. Wrapped presents under the tree increase the expectation for Christmas morning, and are part of the decoration in my home.  Somehow the color and beauty of the wrapping and bows and the process of peeling them away escalates the anticipation of the gift inside.

Sometimes gift wrap can be deceiving. My dad used to put a box in a box in a box until a tiny gift loomed large under the tree. My Sunday School class does white elephant gifts at our annual Christmas party, and the silliest, ugliest presents are often hidden beneath the most beautiful paper. There were times when my boys were small that the wrapping on their precious gifts for me used more tape than paper.

Wrapping is scriptural. David described God as “wrapped in light”. (Ps 104:2) God took the holiness and divinity of his son and wrapped him in human flesh when he sent him to earth for that first Christmas. Mary wrapped that baby in cloths and placed him in a manger. Joseph of Arimathea took the body of Jesus from the cross and wrapped him in linen before placing his body in the tomb.

The gifts under my tree represent planning and shopping that I hope will bring joy to the recipients. But the bottom line is that the wrapping is just the presentation. By the end of Christmas morning, crumpled paper and torn ribbon will be stuffed into trash bags and thrown away. It is the gift itself that matters. What determines the importance of a gift is not whether you like the wrapping; it is what you do with the gift once the wrapping is gone.

Christmas is our reminder that God loved the world so much that he gave us the incredible gift of his son, wrapped in the form of a human baby. (John 3:16) What will you do with the meaning and purpose of Christmas once the celebration and wrapping are gone? Let God’s gift that became Christmas bring you new hope and joy as you chose to celebrate his presence, throughout this season and until you see him face to face.

angels

God sent one angel to announce the birth of Jesus and tell the shepherds how they could find the holy family. Then a whole “host” of angels showed up with a different proclamation.

 Luke 2:14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.

Glory to God and peace to men – that is what the birth of Christ brought to earth that night. The angels proclaimed glory to God who loved his stubborn, disobedient people so much that nothing would prevent him from dwelling with them. And they proclaimed heaven’s peace to men who could not seem to find or create peace for themselves. There was no immediate change in the lives of the shepherds that night. After the angels disappeared, their circumstances were unchanged. The sheep still needed to be watched. Their family and economic situations were unchanged. And they faced a new day with no sleep. But their hearts and expectations were changed. Those shepherds who were so afraid of the sudden appearance of the angels did what the angels told them to do…and they saw God.

Luke 2:20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Looking at all the strife in our hearts and our headlines, it seems we need the same thing today. Giving glory to God often takes a back seat to our comfort zone, our agenda, and political correctness. Too often when God comes to us, we are too busy, too hopeful for our own glory. We forget or refuse to honor the one who has come to us over and over, who has blessed us, who loves us so much he refuses to let go of us. We don’t give praise and glory to the only one who deserves it…and that robs us of our peace.

I suspect our peace here on earth is rooted in our ability to choose to see the glory of God in the midst of all the other stuff in life. God never promised to grant all your wishes, but over and over he promised his presence. May you hear the proclamation of the angels with new insight this Christmas, and may that knowledge lead you to see God in the midst of the circumstances of your life. Let the honor you show to God bring you deep peace.